Chawton House

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A view of Chawton House Library taken January 2008

Chawton House is a grade ll* listed Elizabethan manor house in the village of Chawton in Hampshire. It was formerly the home of Jane Austen's brother, Edward Austen Knight, and is now a library and study centre. [1]

In 1992 a 125-year lease on the house was purchased for £1.25 million by a foundation established by Sandra Lerner and Leonard Bosack, co-founders of Cisco Systems.[2][3]

The house has been extensively restored and is now The Centre for the Study of Early Women's Writing, 1600-1830,[4] which runs study programmes in association with the University of Southampton. It incorporates Chawton House Library, opened in 2003, a collection of over 9,000 books together with related original manuscripts, formerly located in Redmond, Washington, U.S.

Chawton House is the venue of the Annual General Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of the United Kingdom.[5] In 2003 the Jane Austen Society of North America held its 25th Anniversary AGM in the grounds of Chawton House.[6]

The House[edit]

The present Chawton House was built c.1580, principally by John Knight. Based on a previous Manor house owned by the Knight family since 1551, it was subsequently extended and altered c.1655 and again in the 18th and 19th centuries. The house is built of flint with stone dressings and a tiled roof. The 17th-century south front has two storeys with an attic and three gables.

John Knight served as MP for Lymington from 1593 to 1597 and High Sheriff of Hampshire for 1609-10. The house passed down in the family until the male line failed with the death of Sir Richard Knight, after which it was devised to a relative by marriage, Richard Martin, who thereupon changed his name to Knight. It then passed to Thomas Brodnax, a relative, who did the same. His son, Thomas Knight, died childless and bequeathed the house to Edward Austen, the elder brother of Jane Austen, who also added Knight to his name. It then descended in that last Knight family until inherited in poor condition by Richard Knight in 1987, who sold it in 1992. [7]

The Walled Garden[edit]

Edward Austen Knight had the idea to build a new walled garden during his sister Jane Austen’s lifetime: in 1813, She wrote to her brother Frank:

“He (Edward Austen Knight) talks of making a new Garden; the present is a bad one & ill situated, near Mr Papillon's; — he means to have the new, at the top of the Lawn behind his own house.”

Today, Edward Austen Knight's original walls are mostly still intact. The restoration programme for this area is vast, and requires funding and the support of volunteers as it is the intention to rebuild the glasshouses and potting sheds that have long since fallen into disrepair. The central space is used for the production of vegetables, soft fruits, herbs and flowers. Chawton House is registered with the Soil Association,[8] and is now certified as an organic producer. Everything grown in the walled garden is for use by the Library, with any surplus being sold locally in aid of the charity. The gardens are being restored using Edward Austen Knight's original planting scheme. The walls of the garden still require repair and re-pointing, and work is being done to restore the glasshouses in the near future.

Jane Austen's House[edit]

Jane Austen's House Museum is a large 17th-century house in the centre of the village of Chawton, preserved in her memory, where she spent the last eight years of her life. It is a museum, owned by the Jane Austen Memorial Trust since 1947.[9]

The two houses, Chawton House and Jane Austen's House, are entirely separately run charities. This may not be clear to first time visitors who believe the two sites to be working in concert with each other.

Visiting the House[edit]

Chawton House Library & Gardens is open to the public Sunday - Friday, including bank holidays. Members of the public can tour the house and gardens. Opening times in 2016 are:

  • Monday – Friday 1.30 p.m. to 4.30 p.m. Last entry is at 4.00 p.m.
  • Sundays & bank holidays 11.00am – 5.00pm. Last entry 4.30pm.[10]

These hours apply until 28th October 2016, when the house closes for the winter. Updated opening times can be found on the Chawton House Library website. Group tours are available by contacting the Library directly.

Access to the Library itself is available, free of charge, to members of the public who would like to use the library collections. First-time visitors will need to provide identification. All visits to the library are by appointment only. The library opening hours are:

  • Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 12.30 pm and 1.30pm to 4.45pm.[11]

References[edit]

Sources[edit]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°07′42″N 0°59′19″W / 51.1282°N 0.9885°W / 51.1282; -0.9885